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In 1988 I left the suburbs outside of Kansas City for New York’s Parson’s School of Design, where I learned how to draw. I earned a BFA in illustration as well as a BA in social psychology from Eugene Lang College/New School for Social Research. Since then, I have lived in many different cities doing many different jobs. I became passionate about painting in 2008, 20 years later.
My first painting workshop was with Daniel Greene at his home studio in upstate New York. He was the first to introduce me to the math of mixing. When an artist looks between a blank canvas, a model and her paint box, the answers are endless. Daniel made sense of the chaos. Anyone who has experienced his elaborate palette set up can tell you it is methodical and extensive. At first, I thought the enormous 30” wood palette was a joke and a mistake. I came to love it and Daniel’s premixing. An artist becomes intimate with a specific set of colors just by mixing the palette.
For a few years as an adult I was fortunate to live near the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City where I studied paintings of old masters like Titian, Bronzino, Caravaggio, Rubens and Rembrandt. The museum also has an extensive research library where I spent many hours reading about the Italian Renaissance. Artwork may be available online but articles from books are usually not.
I have also taken painting workshops with Frank Covino, Joshua Fallik and David Kassan and attended great lectures at the first Weekend With The Masters convention in Colorado Springs, CO. During this trip I fell in love with the thriving art scene Denver had at the time. The Art Student’s League of Denver puts on a great art fair every year. Here I joined a painting group with artists Daniel Sprick, Quang Ho, Mitch Caster and many other fantastic artists. I did not have a painting background so I soaked up as much as I could by watching the others.
The best painting advice I ever received came from one of my martial arts instructors, Skip Hancock.
“Its not what you do in class that’s going to make you great. What you do on your own will make you great.” Skip Hancock, founder of Kenpo 2000, founding member of The Flames performance group, author and friend.
With that idea in mind, I painted 8 to 10 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week in the beginning. I had no time for friends, family or a love life. When I wasn’t painting, I had print-outs of my painting within reach to think about the visual problem I was trying to solve. I learned by painting flower portraits at first. Then from models which I photographed. Painting from life is extremely expensive and I couldn’t afford it. I wish I was brave enough to be a painter when I lived in New York as a student. There were so many resources available there.
Painting became my whole world. I spent countless hours in museums all over the country, studying, analyzing… ‘how did he/she do that…’ The painters who have influenced me the most are Leonardo DaVinci, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Bouguereau and Jacques Louis David; and also Picasso and Van Gogh.
There are artists in my family in every generation. Growing up my Grandmother told me that I am a descendant of Jacques Louis David. Several of my relatives have tried to prove it to no avail. If it is true, my descendant was probably a secret love child. My family is no stranger to sordid tales and exciting drama. One of my Great Grandmothers left Paris in the early 18th century for New Orleans via ship on a long and difficult voyage in the middle of winter, very pregnant. Another ancestor married a New Orleans riverboat gambler. We tend to find drama in my family as we navigate the exciting side of life.
New Orleans was an important part of my childhood. I looked forward to our annual visits, leaving the ethnically uniform Kansas suburbs for the diversity of New Orleans. My aunt Patricia and her jazz musician husbands showed me how to celebrate life and enjoy people of all wonderous varieties.
Serious health issues slowed me down considerably in the past 15 years. Nulla Dies Sine Linea, which means, no day without a line drawn, was said by Apelles, favorite painter of Alexander the Great. That used to be my personal motto. Once I got sick, I was lucky if I could draw sitting down with a sketchbook on my lap.
I could no longer hold my arm up long enough to paint.
I had debilitating small fiber neuropathy and seizures. My sensory nerves were shorting out, like bad electrical wiring. The burning, tingling, electric shocks, numbness, brain fog and subsequent fatigue disrupted my life for 10 years. I had an active lifestyle before I became ill. I was forced to stop painting, live figure drawing, martial arts and even stop working.
Another favorite quote of mine was written by Miyamoto Musashi:
“Steadfastness of purpose is, above all, the essential requirement to understanding yourself in relation to the universe.”
(Book of Five Rings, Stephen Kaufman’s translation.)
I would like to think things happen for a reason but if you said that to me when I was writhing in pain, cursing God, I would have punched you in the face. Something happens to you when you think you are going to die. Once the crisis is under control, you ask why.
Nothing is the same, everything is more beautiful, every moment is more special, every problem seems small. However, the question of why is never answered. It nags at you in the back of your mind. I envy religious people and the comfort they receive from God. I’m leaning more towards the chaos theory and this is where my grain of sand landed in the spiral of life. I don’t know who created the sand or the spiral but whoever it is doesn’t control what happens next. There is no “why”, its random.
Why do I paint? It makes me happy. The way I paint is mostly mental and I love solving these particular problems. I use math and geometry; phi, grids, % of hue, lightness and saturation as well as perspective lines. I love the planning as much as the execution.
How do I choose what to paint? Hmm, I enjoy social commentaries most of all. I like finding those things that connect us as human. Sometimes I may need to work out a specific color’s characteristics so I’ll paint a flower. Its decorative purpose of matching someone’s couch does not insult me. I’m very satisfied with my painting bringing someone happiness.
I don’t know why I got sick but now that I’m painting again, I’m asking why am I able to paint the way I do. Why do I have the gift; because of my ancestors? There is no answer. Do I have a purpose? I don’t know. Do we create our own purpose?
Do I just do my best in the field I enjoy? What more can anyone do?
Painting can become a beautiful obsession if you let it. I look forward to every new challenge and I try to learn from all of my mistakes and my successes.
“The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.” ConfuciusContact Me